Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Network for Good needs to do better

OK, I fully admit I haven't exhaustively researched this, but Network for Good is trying to get people to use it's API to give to charities. OK, good thing to allow more websites like to spring up and for charities to get a nice little surprise check in the mail.

I read this and kinda wondered:

Q: If my project does not win and I want to purchase the Network for Good API for use beyond June 30th, what do I do?
A: Organizations interested in purchasing a developer license for use beyond June 30, 2008 should email The cost ranges from $6,000 - $9,000 depending on the type of organization, the range of web services being used and the level of customization.
First, their API is not open. Not on the web anywhere. I mean publish the API and limit calls to 10 a month if they are unpaid. Not an insurmountable technical challenge.

But more to the point, if you really want to spread things virally, why would you use such an old school model? I find it kind of amusing that it was founded by AOL and Yahoo and, like the corporations that spawned it, it is having trouble staying in the technological here and now.

Finally a couple of truely radical thoughts. NfG charges a 4.75% fee on transactions. All numbers are assuming ~$40M in annual donations (they did $35M in 2006)

(1) Switch to PayPal. Save $740K. Keep $200-250K and the float to handle the costs on mailing, etc.
(2) Make a deal with Google which offers NPO free processing. Save $1.9M. Keep $500K for expenses and send an additional $1.4M to the sector.

Maybe keep another $100K of the savings and make the API free.

When NfG released the widgets, I thought they probably got web 2.0. With there approach to APIs, however, I need to rethink that conclusion.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

XYZ doesn't speed up development for folks who aren't XYZ Ninjas

Over the past few years I've been trying to solve the problem of delivering high quality technology to small nonprofits. Basically how do you get them something that costs $30K a year for free or affordable cost?

I've worked with a wide range of open source and proprietary technologies... CiviCRM, Drupal,, Microsoft, Google, NetSuite. Nick Lewis had this great quote today,

"Drupal doesn't speed up development for developers who aren't Drupal ninjas"
As I thought about this, I realize this is true for any complex software system. The utility of the software system, its ability to meet user goals, its ability to support rapid and iterative problem solving are all related to the specialization and experience of the user/customer.

This has some really important implications for software buyers. We've been saying this for years about Drupal, but it as relevant for Convio, Kintera, Blackbaud, MPower or any other vendor provided system... the more you learn about the platform, the more you invest in the platform, the more you increase you capacity using the platform, the more likely it will to solve your problems quickly and easily.

Back to small nonprofits... "I'm focusing on my mission, you want me to learn the software? Waste of time." Those of us that serve nonprofits keep wanting Muhammad Yunus's digital Alladin's lamp. Maybe that is not reasonable.

Let's look at the last ubiquitous piece of technology.. MS Word and MS Excel. I remember when NTAPs spent a lot of time training people on those technologies. Eventually the training just became part of the tech plan and new hires came in with basic computer literacy. Not sure there are any more deep worries about the affordability of MS Word (which was a huge issue in 1996) or the capacity of organizations to use MS Word (also a huge issue in the late 1990s).

Databases in the sky, CRM and ERP and different beasts, but perhaps we need to look at the trajectory of MS Word literacy to understand where our world is going over the next decade or so.

(1) Eliminate / radically reduce cost. Big corporations like Google, NetSuite & Salesforce are following Microsoft's software donation playbook, just in a new business model.

(2) Ubiquity leads to capacity. Google is teaching the world how web applications work, increasing the literacy of the population for the smaller players like NetSuite and Salesforce. Though I'm not sure how much CRM/ERP literacy is possible... quickbooks is still a black box to most people.

What do you think? Is it just a matter of time before the "big iron" of CRM/ERP comes to the masses in an effective form?

Monday, April 7, 2008

Case Foundation, Community Based Philanthropy

My esteemed ex-collgue from the Beaumont Foundation, Michael Smith, sent me a little reminder about the Case Foundation Make it Your Own Awards.

As if I hadn't been following such an excellent community-based example of philanthropy! It is a great example of all the innovative approaches Michael and others pioneered at the Beaumont Foundation before some smart lawyers figured out how to convert a couple hundred million dollars of public money into a private family foundation.

Case built a network of partners that solicited 5,000 ideas from individuals. No big to-do about 501-c-3 status or such, just community based ideas for creating social change. They then have engaged a wider audience of crowd-sourced philanthropists to help them make the awards.

You can participate here.

I have just one thought... if you are really trying to spur community-based ideas for community-based social change, then you need to find a way to limit the crowd-sourcing of decision makers to the community in question. This is a great idea, the PR value of tieing it to Ning and Facebook is tremendous, but empower local communities to come up with the ideas, execute the ideas and resource the ideas. That would be tremendous.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Product Design for Charities

I'm in the middle of a product design process involving small charities and big, complex software. Generally not such a good combination. ;)

I've been trying to get the folks on the team to really understand who we are designing the technology for. I found the ultimate quote by Muhammad Yunus talking about the One Laptop Per Child computer.

He explains his own vision for a "digital Aladdin's lamp" - "a genie comes out of it and asks, 'What can I do for you, ma'am?' And she says 'I make these baskets but nobody buys them.' And the lamp says 'I will find somebody to buy it.' And the lamp comes back with buyers. She doesn't know about a keyboard or a computer. She just asks questions of the genie."
A charity doesn't need to understand ERP or CRM. They don't want to have to make sure to click these three boxes on a transaction. They just want to hit the gift button, enter a gift and be done.

I doubt we can do away with the keyboard or the computer. But it's possible to clearly define what questions we can help a charity answer, and allow them to ask those questions and understand the answers in plain English.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Which Capacity Building Metrics?

So I'm working up a scorecard for a software donation program to charities and social enterprises. We care most about the capacity building impact within our grantees. When a grantee receives our intervention, the final outcome should be increased organization capacity and increased organizational effectiveness. What metrics should we use?

I must say the siren song of "number of donations" is strong in my ears, but show an executive that metric and decision making might not head in the right direction...

I've found the NPower / NTEN work around impact evaluation for Nonprofit Technology Assistance Providers (NTAPs) useful, but no simple scorecard emerges. They identify two channels to social impact for an NTAP (which is a good benchmark for a software donation program). #1 Technology Management Capacity #2 Technology Innovation.

Software donation program basically work on the technology innovation lever allowing organizations without financial resources, but with technology management capacity, improve organizations effectiveness.

Not sure it's possible for a software donation program to generate outcomes through improving technology management capacity. But by providing a well defined implementation methodology, the software donor can increase the technology management capacity of a single organization on the single task of implementing the software donation.

Michael Gilbert has a good piece on why asking the right question is critical in evaluating nonprofit technology outcomes. Metrics, key performance indicators, scorecards, etc. are only useful in so far as they ask the right questions. I'm not sure we've ever come up with the right questions for technology donation programs.

So, out to the network of smart people... any bright ideas on scorecard metrics that would point a software donation program in the right direction?