Wednesday, September 12, 2007 uses open RFP process announced a $10M grant program via a Request for Proposals (RFP) process.

We realize that this type of open call for proposals is not the usual model for investment, but we wanted to use a process that was open to new ideas and new entrants.
They are exclusively focusing on entrepreneurs and companies... they already made some grants to nonprofits.

Does this suggest that unique, entrepreneurial innovation doesn't happen in the nonprofit sector? Is t true that only the biggest, best-reputation nonprofits should be invested in? Did they think that there wouldn't be any interesting folks popping up in an RFP for nonprofits?

I'm a firm believer that nonprofit funding is biased to funding winners, not innovators. Something like the Netsquared investment process (kind of an RFP) creates space for those small innovators to emerge. Interestingly enough, however, the Netsquared winner was a bigger, more established organization... not a scrappy start up.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Ack people! Technology adoption *cycle*

Lucy Bernholz, who I am sure is joking, says,

I suppose you know something has gone totally mainstream when its portrayed in Doonesbury.

I guess its time to look for the next new thing.
The strip mentions and Secondlife. But these technology tools are still VERY early in the adoption cycle.

I remember sitting down with a big technology company and being educated that the cycle takes about 5 years to convert the skeptics. Though even today 50% of small nonprofits use Post It notes and excel as their databases. Maybe that adoption cycle is a bit longer for nonprofits?

I suspect we in the nonprofit technology sector will have a far greater impact on real things... people fed, poverty alleviated, etc... if we focus on moving existing technology to the conservatives rather than figuring out what the next big thing the technology enthusiast will start playing with.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Trapping users' data

From the good idea, but gotta-wonder department:

We think it’s time for socially-enabled web sites to stop competing over who can build a higher wall to trap their users' data.
This from the folks that bring us the open social web bill of rights.

(1) Duh. Of course this is better for consumers and better for the social web. My virtual world is tied up in Linkedin, Facebook, Plaxo, Technorati and a million other places. Each of these locations tries to connect me with other people I know. Far better if they all connect with one another seamlessly behind the scenes.

(2) What is the economic model? For profit technology firms are driven by investors looking for very high returns on investment or by corporations looking for high revenue plays. This goes back to the concept of does a company care about the size of their slice of the pie or the entire size of the pie?

A totally open social web creates a very big pie where all actors compete equally for user attention (and from there revenue). What corporation in their right mind is in favor of low barriers to entry in their market? The lower the barriers the lower the profits.

The angle that gets me jazzed is that many small actors, facing high barriers to entry, really do have an opportunity to create an open social web. Facebook might have already cracked the door.

Facebook is now a platform of social applications. Think of it as a private network... they control the cables, switches and routers. Open standards comes along. No one controls the network and you can create a virtual private network. More importantly the virtual private networks all follow the same basic rules.

It will be interesting to see this play out over the next few years.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Productize the Social Web!

Britt Bravo and the NetSquared crew have a cool idea... pose a question and a cool background report from the Overbrook Foundation and get people to pontificate ;) The better idea in this is that anyone can pontificate, further proof that the audience often has far more interesting things to say than the speaker. Go to the site and answer for yourself!

What is needed to facilitate more nonprofits' adoption of the social web?
A clear value proposition and simple, achievable models.

This approach pre-supposes there are few innovators and far more followers. To achieve volume (i.e. more nonprofits) you need to "comdify" the social web.

The first angle is always a why question. Given the choice between calling a donor or filling out a grant proposal, why am I going to invest my time in the social web? An answer that is always good is an ROI answer. Do happy, engaged constituents give more money? Are their demographics more desirable than my regular donor pool? Does the cost effort I invest today to figure this all out exceed the benefit I may get?

So to answer the why question, I would love to see a 2 page case for why the social web helped the Overbrook grantees that were in the vanguard. Drop the academic analysis we are sometimes too fond of in our sector and make a clear case designed to sell the reader.

Now that we have nonprofits sold on the social web, we need to give them achievable models.

I find it interesting that in the Overbrook report, it seemed like no one had to be sold on the social web:
“I think I’m missing something really big, but I don’t know what it is or how to find out what it is.”
“We don’t know who can translate these things for our needs.”
In our sector, we seem to want to answer these questions by teaching the organization how to write an RFP. Because somehow, it makes sense that a human rights organization needs to be an expert in the social web to be able to use the social web... to write an RFP, select a consultant or 'do it themselves.'

The Overbrook report also notes "There was almost universal frustration voiced about using outside technology consultants." Why?

Probably because the human rights organization wanted some sausage and really didn't want to know how the sausage was made. Why can't we as nonprofit technology assistance providers deliver a satisfying outcome rather than a frustrating process?

So this leads us to the second point... where are the social web "products"? I'm a nonprofit and I just buy, off the shelf, a solution. I don't have to become an expert. I just reap the rewards.

(Easy to say, FAR harder to do... but that is for another post)